Flashback: Arvig Made its Mark on Minnesota’s Telecommunications History
Since Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876, the telephone industry has grown and evolved into a high-tech business. Bell foresaw the potential of a nationwide communications system, and immediately formed local telephone exchanges in major U.S. cities, which was followed by the formation of AT&T in 1885 to connect the Bell companies.
Lines and cables soon spiderwebbed across the country as the telephone industry grew. In the small west-central Minnesota town of Perham—some 74 years after Bell’s invention was patented—Arvig would become part of Minnesota’s telecommunications history.
Royale and Eleanor Arvigؙ bought the Perham Telephone Company in 1950, transforming the rudimentary system into something much more sophisticated that laid the groundwork for the internet, television, telephone and complimentary services that stretch statewide and beyond today.
The phone was just the beginning
From the start, the Arvig’s vision was clear: to build the best, most trouble-free private telephone company in the nation.
Little did they know at the time, but the telephone was just the beginning. Not only would the company eventually bear the family name, the following decades would see major evolution and expansion into television, internet and business services under the leadership of future generations of the Arvig family.
Royale and Eleanor put their principles into practice right away, beginning with work to upgrade and modernize their newly-purchased telephone system. That would take time, investment and hard work, but the Arvigs made improvements and took on challenges ambitiously.
“It helped that my father was a contractor, building rural electrical lines when he heard the Perham Telephone Exchange was for sale,” said Allen Arvig, Royale and Eleanor’s son, and now CEO and President of the Board of Directors for Arvig. “He was already familiar with the Rural Electrification Administration program that provided low interest loans for development of rural telephone systems.”
Rural telephone lines owned and maintained by area farmers were soon purchased, and poles and aerial cables were installed to replace lines loosely strung from fencepost to fencepost. From there, the company grew its territory, with the acquisition of other telephone companies in surrounding communities.
The earliest record in Minnesota was a two-telephone intercom circuit used by a Little Falls, Minn., druggist and his clerk in 1876, the same year Bell patented the device. In those days, individual telephones were connected directly to each other with a wire. This was convenient for a business owner to connect to their home or an adjoining store, but not so handy to connect with anyone outside of a small geographical area.
Royale got in on ground floor of the REA program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This enabled him to start changing the rural telecom from a hand-cranked system to an electronic one, and allowed him to begin expanding the service area to neighboring towns.
Other communications milestones in the region include:
+ 1960s – 1970s: The rise of affordable microwave communications equipment made long distance calling affordable
+ 1986: Introduction of cable TV
+ 1988: Cellular phone service launches
+ 1980s: Development of fiber optic networks improve call quality, including transatlantic calls
+ Early 1990s: Introduction of internet services
+ Late 1990s: Beginning of VoIP, Voice over Internet Protocol, converting sound into a digital signal that transfers over the internet, reducing the cost of calls over analog dialing
+ Early 2000s: Introduction of broadband, splitting the signal in one line between telephone and internet, allowing faster connection speeds
In an interview in 2016, Arvig management saw VoIP as the future for voice communication. VoIP has many advantages including cost savings, portability, flexibility and serving multi-functions. Since VoIP calls use a broadband internet connection, it is possible to make calls and conduct video conferencing from all over the world, wherever there’s a connection. But in certain circumstances, data transfer speed has not been able to keep up and allow for a stable video stream. 5G technology is about to change all that, and likely propel widespread VoIP adoption.
Each generation of wireless technology has resulted in increased speeds, reliability and signal clarity. As we approach the fifth generation (the “G” in your current 3G or 4G LTE wireless service), expect amazing advances. 5G is anticipated to provide data transmission speeds approximately 10 times faster than what is currently available. The transmission method is improving too—using a greater number of small network cells in lieu of large towers. Not only will 5G move data much faster, it will greatly improve reliability of VoIP applications such as video conferencing. Imagine making stunningly clear 4K or even 8K video calls with a stable two-way live video stream. It is just around the corner.
There are a few other technologies to watch in the future of voice communications.
Voice assistants (whether with a standalone device like an Amazon Echo or an integrated application like Siri) are changing how we communicate, asking for directions, what the weather is outside or settling an argument with an obscure statistic. According to Pew Research, nearly half of Americans use digital voice assistants, mostly on their smartphones. Fun fact: the technology of interacting with machines with our voice was inspired by the 1960s TV show Star Trek.
Our smart phones are connecting with vehicles, home appliances, and other items embedded with Internet of Things (IoT) electronics. The number of IoT devices is increasing rapidly and is expected to reach 30 billion connected devices by 2020.
Voice communications have evolved from a simple device to a handheld computer connecting with everything out there by tapping, typing or just talking out loud. Perhaps someday we won’t even need the device—just our voice to communicate with the physical world.